Review of the Altura AP-UNV1 Flash
Note. We are not in any way affiliated or sponsored by Altura for this review. We paid full price for this flash on Amazon.
You may have seen this flash on Amazon and wondered if it’s worth getting. The price is attractive after all. Well now you can find out without spending a dime. This flash is labeled as “Altura Photo AP-UNV1 DSLR Camera Flash Speedlite for Canon Nikon Sony” on Amazon. I’ve used it off and on since 2015 so I seemed like a good person to review this flash. I’ve use this flash a bit on top of my camera but I prefer to either hold it for object photography as a fill light or as an off camera flash sitting on top of a flash trigger.
I actually really like Altura and wish them well. The quality of their products is below those of name brand companies, yet their quality isn’t horrible. It used to be that the types of equipment that Altura is selling now was very expensive. I also remember a time before Altura came around where Ebay was full of garbage knockoffs of name brand camera equipment. Altura continues to innovate away from being a Chinese ripoff company into a brand of common folk photographers. You won’t get any street cred for using a flash unit with this brand on the front, but sensible people won’t look down on you for it either.
The flash runs on four AA batteries. The battery life is pretty average for a flash. The battery door is pretty flimsy though, I’ve had mine come off in the camera bag. This flash is great for a beginner because of it simplicity. The flash doesn’t have E-TTL metering, this means that your camera can’t compensate for exposure when the flash fires in the various intensities. The shoe only has the single trigger pin which means that the camera can’t receive any data from the flash. Flash intensity goes on a linear scale by pressing the plus and minus buttons on the back of the flash. You can tell what your flash intensity is by a series of yellow LED bars.
Master, Slave, and Slave1 are your only mode options. The slave modes allow for off camera flash...if it works. Experience with this thing has shown that most of the time the flash doesn’t fire unless the triggering flash is pointed right at the front of this thing which defeats the whole purpose. When the flash does go off by triggering it may not go off fast enough for your shutter. Yes, I realize that 1/200 is fast for flash, but this thing is triggering late compared to other off camera flash units I own.
The biggest reason to get this flash is the price. A Speedlite for $35 is pretty incredible. I can think of a lot of uses for a few of these units when combined with flash triggers. The lack of frills on this flash unit means that you might actually prefer to use it combined with a remote flash. For someone just getting started and needing gear to begin I can highly recommend this flash. For anyone with a bit more money to throw at a Speedlite, or anyone who already has a flash, the price doesn’t justify how little flash you get. Altura themselves even have better flash units
The flash has a diffuser and catchlight reflector card. For people unaware, the diffuser is a useful thing to have already on a flash instead of having to buy another component and try not to lose it. The diffuser also works pretty well, I forget to slide it back of most of the time since most of my work needs slightly softer shadows. The unit also has a swivel head which works pretty well too.
No E-TTL metering means that you will have to guess your exposure until it looks good. This isn’t a problem in many situations, but in many others when you need the first shot to be correctly exposed...that’s a big frustration. In fact if you have used a flash with TTL then you will not be enjoying this thing.
Something small that annoys me is that the indicator LED for telling when your flash is ready starts off as green. Green means “go” and “good to go” everywhere else in the world. On this flash the green indicator means that the flash is charging, the LED turns red to indicate that the flash is charged to fire. Huh? I’ve never gotten used to this.
I think the lack of features on this flash also really hurts it. You see, for the people who plan to use this for their first flash unit, or for their primary flash, will be hurting for certain features that are almost universal in good units.
I’d also like to talk about the accessories. The shutter release button that came with my unit hardly ever worked. These things are a dime a dozen on Ebay, this is not in any way a selling point. The flash unit also comes with a hot shoe to mount adapter, good for Altura. The diffuser that came with this camera is pretty useless and poorly made. Most people won’t need or care about it though so I won’t describe how bad the elastic band for it is.
The build quality is, for lack of a better term, Chinese. The construction feels a bit flimsy in a lot of places, but it also hasn’t fallen apart on me. There are lots of loose fits where the plastic comes together yet the hinge hasn’t failed yet. I’m sure there are many sins on the internal components of this flash but at the same time I haven't had mine die on my after several years of use. I actually like how bright the LEDs are and the fit of the back panel to the body.
Altura also claims that this flash is universal for any camera with a standard hot shoe. You know what? I haven’t found a camera that had trouble using this flash. I’ve even used this flash unit with several SLRs that have been reviewed on this blog and the flash fired fine. Gee, I sure hope that despite no TTL metering I could get correct exposures. Oh wait, with no way to really guess exposure you can be sure that this thing will destroy your exposure if you set it too high. Seriously, this thing is risky to use without a preview. I’ve always used a DSLR to set up my exposure before attaching this flash to the SLR I use it on. I’ve also tested this flash on the bench with an oscilloscope, the trigger voltage is between 6.7V and 5.8V
Sample pictures? We don’t need no stinkin’ sample pictures. This is a flash, it produces light when you press the button...most of the time.
So would I recommend or buy this flash for myself again? The answer is complicated, it depends on several factors. For those just getting a flash I’d say that you should get this only if you can’t afford a better flash unit for $20 more. For those that need some cheap speedlites I’d highly recommend this unit if your budget can be saved by $20 per unit saved by buying these. Lastly, for those who just want an extra speedlite, I can see the logic of getting one of these. As long as you know the limitations I won’t try to dissuade you from buying this.